Toddlers are more famous for leaving a path of destruction wherever they go than for helping tidy the house. The truth is they love to help, and if given the tools and opportunity, will enthusiastically help you with all kinds of chores.
Is this always helpful in the moment? Well, no, not really. But it does give toddlers a sense of pride and responsibility and engages them in purposeful work, which can work wonders on behavior. As a bonus, involving your toddler in the daily work of the household allows you to get things done when they're awake, giving you more time to recharge when bedtime comes. It's a definite win-win.
Take a look at your to-do list and try to think about which tasks your toddler might be able to help with. Even if they're only helping in a tiny way, young children love feeling included. Follow your child's interests to see which tasks will really capture their attention.
If you're feeling stumped, here are 10 ideas to get you started.
1. Unloading the dishwasher
Unloading the dishwasher was one of the very first ways my own toddler started helping around the house, and it's still a favorite activity today. Very young toddlers will only be able to hand you dishes to put away. Model how to carefully hold one thing at a time with two hands to prevent things from breaking. If a dish does break, it's a great opportunity to practice safety around broken glass and to demonstrate the importance of handling things with care.
Remove anything sharp and anything you care too deeply about before your child begins helping. To take it a step further, keep your child's dishes in a low cabinet so they can put their own things away.
2. Putting away laundry
Laundry is a great task to involve toddlers in because, well, they create so much of it. It's something you can practice together daily. Inviting your toddler to help you fold and put away laundry will at least keep them from toppling your carefully folded piles and spreading the clean laundry all over the floor.
Young toddlers can help by carrying folded laundry to the room where it belongs and help you put it away. Slightly older toddlers can help match socks and fold small, simple things like washcloths and napkins.
If your toddler has access to their own clothing on a low closet shelf or set of drawers, they can put their own things away as well.
3. Sweeping the floor
Try giving your toddler their own little broom and dustpan. Show them how to use it and keep it somewhere they can access it independently. Next time you need to sweep, invite them to help.
This is a great way to engage toddlers when it's time to clean up after dinner, as it's something they can do by themselves and, while it won't always actually be super helpful, it does not create a mess.
If your house is anything like mine, it can always use a little extra sweeping, so this is also a good activity to initiate if your toddler has a lot of energy and needs a purpose.
4. Window washing
Window washing is often a favorite activity in Montessori classes for young children. It involves a spray bottle and a squeegee - what's not to love? Try this window washing set or put together your own. Show your toddler how to spray once and then wipe the water with a small towel.
The immediate results of a shiny clean window make this task particularly rewarding.
5. Washing the car
Washing the car is perfect for toddlers for lots of reasons.It involves big motions that let them use their muscles, uses lots of soap and bubbles and is something you can do outside together.
All you need is a bucket, sponge, soapy water and a cloth to wipe it dry.
Your toddler can also help wash their tricycle or balance bike, which has the added bonus of showing them how to care for their own things.
6. Helping with dinner
The evenings got a lot less stressful in my house when my toddler was able to start helping prepare the food. Even young toddlers can help by dumping in pre-measured ingredients, mixing things and chopping produce with a safe chopper.
Your toddler may not want to stick around for the whole dinner prep process, and that's okay. Invite them to help as long as they are interested. They will likely be more content to play on their own when they're done, knowing that they have the option to join you.
7. Watering the plants
Many of these tasks are things your toddler can do alongside you, but watering plants is a job they can do all on their own.
Show your little one how to test the dirt to see if a plant needs water and how to fill a watering can with just enough water. They can use a step stool to reach a sink or you can give them access to a pitcher. Demonstrate how to pour the water around the roots.
Choose a hearty plant and of course make sure to water it if your toddler forgets.
8. Feeding a pet
If you have pets, involving your child in their care is a wonderful way to teach responsibility.
Most children love helping with pets and get a special sense of joy from caring for another living thing. Your toddler can easily help feed a family pet, though they may need you to pre-portion the food or provide a scoop that's just the right size.
If you don't have a pet, try inviting your toddler to help fill bird feeders outside.
Dusting is a super simple activity that even the youngest toddlers can help with. Start with something easy like low window sills or baseboards. When your toddler is ready, show them how to carefully remove things from one surface at a time to dust shelves or end tables.
Dusting is very satisfying for young children because they can see the results of their hard work immediately.
10. Fixing things
Next time you need to fix something around the house or build a piece of simple furniture, try involving your toddler.
They will likely only be able to help in very simple ways like holding something for you or handing you a tool, but they may be fascinated by the process. This is a good one to do when you have a spouse or other adult around in case your toddler gets bored so that you're not left with a half-finished project and tools strewn around the house.
Toddlers can, and want to, help in so many ways. They key is to invite them, but not to force them. At this age, it should be a fun activity you can do together.
While involving your toddler is often more work than simply completing a task on your own, it helps instill a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility. It shows young children that they are members of the family, and all members of the family help take care of the home. This way when your toddler reaches the age when they can actually be helpful, you won't be starting from scratch.